Atwood & Belanger in Portland. Photo curtesy of Bri Atwood.

Welcome to the end of the third week of our COVID-19 Spring semester, where many students are still hunkering down and creating a new schedule and routine for themselves. Seniors are probably freaking out about it being three months until graduation, the juniors are hoping the vaccine saves their senior year, and the sophomores are getting deja vu as we also hit the one year anniversary of the pandemic beginning. But what about the freshman?  The class of 2024 has dealt with both their high school graduation and now freshman year in an isolated and restrictive environment filled with zoom classes. As many of us reflect on our own freshman years and all we learned about ourselves, the friends we made, and the goals we set, how different are the lives of the class of 2024 doing? 

In previous articles, USM and the RA staff in the residential halls are trying to enforce safe interactions between students, hosting zoom events, encouraging neighborly friendliness, and trying to make the most out of our situation. 

Bre Atwood from Franklin Massachusetts is currently studying exercise science as she returns to her Upton-Hastings bedroom on campus. As she reflects on her time before setting foot on campus she laughed when asked about her expectations for her freshman year. 

“My expectations were very low, I was the only one out of my friends who even got to go on campus. So I thought we were going to get sent home after two weeks,” she said. Atwood’s schedule included one in-person class and the rest were online in her single. Atwood is currently on the Women’s Soccer team, but stated, “In August, USM announced that all Fall sports were canceled, which meant no practice or games.” 

Atwood, like many others, was home from March during the initial lockdown, up until move-in day. “It was very difficult, coming off from not real school at the end of my senior year, and getting thrown into a college schedule and getting used to the flow of classes and the expectations of a college education,” she said.

Another difficult task Atwood faced was the motivation to create a routine for herself and staying on topic in school. “At home, I was used to waking up every morning with my siblings and all eating breakfast, we would motivate each other,” she said.

She explains that in late September when USM announced that soccer practice could happen, it was easier to create a routine, “without the stress of games, it was easier to balance since I could focus on just going to practice in the afternoon, while I had classes in the morning.” 

However, even with soccer practice, Atwood said that even as a self-motivated person she felt, “stuck in a quiet room, I would spend six hours a day in my room and not go anywhere until I had practice.” 

Once soccer started to pick up, Atwood met the team along with 14 other new players. “I started to have more of a social life,” laughed Atwood. “It was nice to meet new people, and I also had a car so I was able to leave campus. They all showed me around Maine and opened me up to USM, it was like one big friend group.” 

While living in Upton-Hastings, Atwood says that she found out that other teammates lived above her, this was also a way to hang out with her friends outside of practice. “It was hard at first to see who was willing to hang out since everyone has their own personal boundaries with COVID-19.” 

Some advice that Atwood would like to share with her fellow freshman class and to others at USM, is to, “taking advantage of everything, don’t take it for granted, try to make new memories, and do new things. COVID-19 has shown that we took a lot of things for granted and show what we lost that we didn’t think we would.” 

Atwood also was given the advice to not be stuck in her bubble, “I’ve learned a lot about my independence and what I can do and what I am capable of. Despite everything I can make good out of tough situations.” 

After going home after the Fall semester, Atwood’s goal for the Spring semester is to aim for the best academically, as well as continue to reflect on herself. She also is hoping to make new friends and maintain the friendships she is lucky to have. 

One of these friends happens to be Gabby Belanger. Another freshman living in Upton-Hastings on the Women’s Soccer team. Belanger is a nursing major from Ocean Park, ME. 

Similar to Atwood, Belanger also set very low expectations, “I was very excited for the change and to have the chance to be independent.” She also explains that a lot of her friends were able to go to their college campuses as well. 

One of the things Belanger was most excited about was the “sense of living on my own and being independent, meeting some new people.” She also shared some of her struggles this Fall semester, “I spent a lot of time alone, up until soccer started, which was really hard, I went home most weekends because I didn’t really see anyone outside of zoom class.”  

Before arriving at school Belanger explains that she was able to meet people through the class of 2024 Facebook group, she said she was able to follow others on Instagram and add people on Snapchat and get to know people that way. “I could connect with these people before arriving on campus, I am still improving those relationships.” 

When asked about how her Fall semester went she laughed and said, “Probably interesting, between trying to get to know how to meet new people, the weirdness of being on a campus, plus I was trying to find new things to do in Maine.” Some of these new things involved taking day trips to the Old Port and just exploring new places outside.  

Belanger had many ups and downs last semester like a lot of students, she says a negative would be, “trying to have the motivation, it’s hard when you don’t have classes in person to go and get the work done.” She says that she found herself comparing her college experience to her friends at different universities, as they often had roommates. 

On a happier note, she smiles as she explains that she was really able to get out of her shell, “I was able to be more confident in myself, I forced myself to make new friends.” She says that she would have chats in the hallways with her neighbors and spark up conversations with the others in the bathroom before bed. 

Once soccer began, Belanger said she was able to come out of her shell even more, “It was a little nerve-racking, especially since I was walking on to the team with so many other freshman players. She shares that within the first few days that fear went away, “we started to realize that a lot of us lived in the same buildings, we worked together and helped each other out with our classes.” Belanger said, “it makes it a lot more comfortable to be at USM.”  She added that she was able to have more team dinners and planned events outside of practice as well.  

As Belanger walks into this Spring semester, her goals have changed, “I want to get to know more people, I didn’t really get to know a lot of people last semester, and I want to make a change and stay on campus more to build new friendships.” 

When it comes to advise, Belanger shares, “try to make the best out of any situation no matter what the circumstances. Grab the good in life and appreciate what you have and not what you don’t.”   

Look at this Spring semester as a way to start fresh, to all the freshmen, this is a new chance to get yourself out there, with one semester under your belt you got this! Push yourself to create those relationships with those on your floor and building, or make a long-distance friendship in your zoom classes. 

Be proud of the progress you’re making, no matter how small. 



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